RapidChat: George Eberhardt

George Eberhardt works with young artists every day as a drawing, painting, illustration, and graphic design instructor at WMCAT. He still finds time to create his own pieces, including past ArtPrize entries and a giant mural paying homage to west side history. George is passionate about nurturing creativity and his story comes full circle as he, too, had fantastic art educators early on. Rapid Growth chatted with George at the bright and energizing WMCAT facility about his art, his toe-tapping love for music, and a sense of nostaliga that influences his work. 
George Eberhardt works with young artists every day as a drawing, painting, illustration, and graphic design instructor at WMCAT. He’s passionate about nurturing creativity and his story comes full circle as he, too, had fantastic art educators early on. Rapid Growth chatted with George at the bright and energizing WMCAT facility about his art (including a giant west-side mural), his toe-tapping love for music, and his work with students that inspires and fuels his own creativity.
Rapid Growth: How did you get into teaching?

George Eberhardt: I was a student at Kendall. I studied illustration and digital media, and a buddy of mine was an assistant instructor at WMCAT. He had an opportunity to move into a new field and told me I would be good at relating to the students because of my past and upbringing. They liked what I had to offer and my perspective on working with teens, so they brought me on as an assistant instructor. That was about six or seven years ago.

I’ve now had several opportunities for growth. The graphic design program needed a new department head. I had some new ideas for the students to work on, and I was building really strong relationships with the students, so I was offered that position.

Beyond that I got an opportunity to work in the drawing and painting department, which is one of my real passions. I am more of a physical media person. I’d rather paint and draw than do graphic design.

RG: You grew up in Detroit, so what brought you across the state to attend Kendall?

GE: I lived on the east side and went to Detroit’s College for Creative Studies (CCS) for a year and a half. My mother got really sick and moved to Lansing, so I dropped out of college at CCS and moved to Lansing to help take care of my mother. Once she was on the road to recovery, I expressed interest in getting back into the arts and getting back into an art school. I didn’t want to move back to Detroit since I’d been there my whole life. I wanted to do something different.

RG: Do you miss Detroit?

GE: The old Tiger Stadium is a big thing to me, a source of nostalgia. My family spent a lot of time there; it was kind of our thing. A lot of the Detroit I knew is gone or different. I’ll always have a love for the city but I’ve outgrown it in a sense. Comerica Park is amazing but the old stadium is where it’s at.

RG: How did you assert yourself as an artist early on?

GE: Early on in my life, I was lucky enough to identify a talent, which was drawing. I was always drawing cartoon characters for people. I didn’t assign myself the title of artist. People around me in my community started to tell me I was talented and I should become an artist. I always had great support in my community.

RG: Where can we see your art?

GE: A recent work of mine on public display is a 20’ x 40’ mural in Rockford Construction’s courtyard at their new west side headquarters. They wanted the mural to be all based on historical west side imagery and influential people in that area. There are several different shots of industrial furniture factories, John Ball makes an appearance, there is a shot of the really old historic farmers' market. I had to do a lot of research about the west side’s history. The mural is slightly comic inspired and it’s a graffiti piece, all spray paint. Josh Tyron created a time-lapse video of the mural being created.

That was the largest project I’ve done thus far. It was very eye-opening. It was a good time. The CEO of Rockford Construction, Mike Van Gessel, grew up on the west side, so there was lots of meaning there.

RG: How did you learn how to do graffiti art?

GE: Practice. That’s the extent of that answer. Lots of practice.

RG: Did any of your students help with the mural?

GE: No, that was a private piece. But I did make a mural with students in 2013. It’s inside WMCAT, at the entrance. The students came up with the concept and we had photo shoots of students in groups and then included illustrations to represent the different departments at WMCAT.

RG: What influences your art?

GE: Nostalgia. The idea of holding strong to the things I first fell in love with – music, movies, comics.

RG: What comics do you enjoy?

GE: I really love Spawn. I don’t know why… I have a tortured soul. I also really like anti-hero stories. I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that there are people who aren’t necessarily heroes but they still do phenomenal things for people.

RG: Do you like living in Grand Rapids?

GE: I like the professional life I’ve developed for myself in Grand Rapids and the opportunities I’ve found here. I’m a big fan of bowling, so I go to Clique Lanes a lot. I like Richmond Park quite a bit. I’m always checking Vertigo to see what new music they’ve got.  

RG: What are you listening to lately?

GE: There is a new and interesting young hip hop artist – Bishop Nehru. He is only 17 years old, and so talented. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bill Withers’ tracks lately; I like the very old school, sultry voice.

I was fortunate to have a very musical upbringing. My father is a jazz musician; he plays the drums. I know how to play the drums too, somewhat, and that spawned my love and interest in music. I went to lots of his gigs growing up.

RG: Do you plan to stay in education? Does it ever stifle your own art?

GE: I definitely want to stay in the education field. The nurturing and support of creativity is important to me. I will always be a creator in some sense. Even if not for money, I might just make work to put in art shows, just to get feedback.  

I’m pushing and nurturing creativity… so that fuels me when I get personal time to really push out some things that I’ve been thinking about.

RG: How do you encourage students to be creative?

GE: I think it is all about accepting them where they are and not making them feel belittled at their skill level at the time. And then getting them to express their interests because once a students starts to communicate, the trust is there, they accept your encouragement, and they feed into the idea that they can push themselves farther.

RG: Did you have good art teachers?

GE: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, one of the people that is an inspiration to me constantly is my art teacher from high school, Dana Bowersox. I think she has since retired.

Once she recognized my talent, she would not allow me to apply for AP classes. She wanted me to go through the preliminary courses to sharpen my skills, not dive into creative large projects. She got me into the idea of thinking instead of just doing. She didn’t want me to run out and create lots of work; she wanted me to develop my ideas and my creative process.

I also had two inspirational instructors doing my college years.

David Chai at CCS was my Traditional 2D Animation instructor as well as my Animation Life Drawing instructor. He is a fun-loving guy who made a point to share interesting and personal things about himself to make students feel comfortable in class. He had a large hand in developing my people skills because of the team atmosphere that he created in his classroom. We were all so tight yet competitive; all of our work grew because of it. David completely opened my eyes to the teamwork aspect of being an artist. He also stressed speed and accuracy, which has helped me a great deal with the demonstrations I do in class for my students.

Jon McDonald was my Illustration 1 & 2 instructor at Kendall. He had a unique perspective that made students question things in their lives as artists and life in general. He demonstrated an amazing amount of skill with the greatest of ease and an extremely humble approach that made you feel confident in your own abilities. He also had a great way of breaking the ice with people and keeping learning and work fun.

I try to channel the things I learned from all three instructors I had in an effort to nurture my students’ creativity and encourage their artistic development. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to learn from all three of those instructors and I hope to positively impact my student’s creative development, too.

Molly Crist is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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